“Perspective is everything,” he said. “Life is all about perspective.”
Junior had a penchant for stating the obvious, but his friends paid attention every time he opened his mouth. His mum said he wasn’t always a chatterbox. Growing up with a speech impediment, young Junior was always being laughed at, returning home with a face full of tears. He always questioned himself and God’s plan for him. He hated himself, and that made him attempt suicide! That was where the line was drawn. His mother pulled him out of the school he was attending and took him to a different school where shortcomings were embraced; a school of love and appreciation — just what he needed.
He went on and on about life and death, and they nodded their heads in unison as they always did.
“Please, encourage him,” his mother begged them after she had noticed some exasperation by his endless speeches. “He loves and respects both of you very much.”
The boys could relate. Like Junior, they had fought their own battles.
Tayo was about 12 years old when he ran across a field of stones and noticed something, a change from then on. His bare feet across any surface felt weird, like they were swollen. In his mind, the stones had disfigured them. He could have easily put on his shoes before rushing to get his lunch but, atilogupractice was ongoing; Redeemers’ week was closing in and they needed to perfect every sequence before D-day. So having to put on the shoes and take them off seemed a bigger chore. He, however, later regretted his decision. Four years after and the truth was a bag of bricks. It was the end of break time, the boys dressed up after spending the whole period playing football. Tayo was still barefoot standing on the field when Sanmi glanced at him.
“Wow!” he screamed, drawing everyone’s attention. “See Tayo’s feet!”
Everyone drew closer; Sanmi was laughing. “They are like two left feet,” using his hands to demonstrate. “Like two hands for feet,” he continued, laughing hysterically.
Tayo took a second to actually study his feet. You would think that at 16 years he would have been aware he was flatfooted. Sanmi’s hurtful words resonated deeply in his core, for he saw the truth in them. Being a man, as defined by society, he had to mask his pain. He smiled and laughed along, but, he never forgot. The words hurt him for years forcing him to become insecure. The final blow was dealt years after he was at the beach, tipsy, again barefoot, and his “penguin feet” as they were called, garnered more unwanted attention. Again, he laughed back, but his feet were heavily covered from then on.
Efe was overweight growing up. He had nicknames ranging from “Heavy D” to “Orobokibo”, to “Fatty Bum Bum”. Random people to familiar faces never held back. From childhood to adulthood the fat shaming continued and just like Tayo, Efe laughed through it, and as he got older his insecurities deepened. Having taken all the banter hurled at him, it didn’t take too long for his self-worth to be tied to his looks. Friday nights out, he would drink excessively to forget he was different. In the presence of pretty girls who were wholly focused on everyone but him, he felt he had to do a bit more for attention. Unconsciously, their words had defined him.
Efe took the first step by exercising obsessively. After a long day at work, between the hours of 7pm and 9pm, you could see him on the bridge,
The perfect picture of his body was at the finishing line waiting for him. That was his motivation. He had longed for the day when he would be normal. The ship sailed smoothly till one fateful day, someone said to him, “You run a lot but you are still fat!”
An insult to his dedication but a trigger as well — he worked harder on his diet and gave up his beloved alcohol to become thin as a stick. He gave up everything good for recognition. It was his answer to his self-esteem issues. Two months after and the sacrifice bore fruit; the disbelief was his. The results made him proud; he signed up in a gym for fear of slacking, and in time, he learned the ropes. He progressed fast and found love within himself, because in the gym, all his fears and insecurities were forgotten — he found a safe haven. With that, he talked about it relentlessly every opportunity he had, because still, his self-worth was tied to his physique. The further he progressed, the more he talked about gym, but with that, the shaming never ended. To his disbelief, there were complaints he talked about gym too much.
“Must you always talk about gym?”
It conditioned him to stay silent about something he was passionate about. The irony was that the same people who attacked him for being fat were the loudest in their complaints when Efe zealously spoke about his fitness goals.
“Why must you talk about gym? I gym too and don’t talk about it. Why are you shirtless in your avatar? You are screaming for attention!”
He simply felt he could never win.
Truth be told, these are my experiences. I am both Tayo and Efe, and over the years, I have had to battle these insecurities created out of both malicious and benevolent words from everyone around me. There is power in the tongue. This isn’t about right or wrong, but carefulness. For you, your choice of words may fade away like time, but for another, a long lasting memory.